Lara Ruark, a kindergarten teacher at Mary Farmar Elementary, has been named December’s Teacher of the Month by Walnut Creek adult contemporary station KKDV.
Ruark began teaching at Mary Farmar in 2006, but she left to teach in rural Alaska for three years before returning to Benicia in 2013.
“I wanted to come back to the Bay Area and someone was retiring from Mary Farmar, so I got to come back to where I started,” she said.
She has incorporated anecdotes about her life in Alaska to her students.
“I like to build a strong community in my classroom, where we get to know each other,” she said. “I think I wore them down with stories about my giant snow dog— an Alaskan Malamute— and my life in an Alaskan village.”
Ruark has also made her fun-loving personality a big facet of her teaching.
“I was a drama kid growing up, so I really enjoy acting out stories and doing funny voices when I read books,” she said. “And I make up songs to sing to them when I am giving them directions or getting their attention.”
Ruark’s teaching style has gone over very well with students and especially their parents, one of whom nominated her for KKDV’s Teacher of the Month contest.
A the end of the month, the radio station honors a regional teacher who is nominated by a parent. Beginning this year, the winning teachers are candidates for the Warren W. Eukel Teacher Trust Award, which honors teachers with annual monetary awards for more than 17 years.
Ruark learned via email that she was nominated and was pleasantly surprised.
“I was a bit stunned when I found out because this sort of thing doesn't happen to teachers, much less me,” she said. “I feel very flattered and honored and at the same time, I just want to shout, ‘No way,’ which I think I did shout when I first read the email.”
Her students were especially elated.
“They were excited when I told them, and some of them told their parents but most of them didn't know what it meant,” she said. “When (Office Manager Debbie) Warren announced that I was nominated as Teacher Of The Month over the loudspeaker, their faces lit up and one little one started jumping up and down with excitement.”
Additionally, KKDV stopped by to conduct a live interview with Ruark inside her classroom with coffee and sweet treats provided by the station and Nothing Bundt Cakes in Walnut Creek.
“I was only asked three questions but I felt on the spot and surprisingly shy,” she said. “I also felt that I needed to answer the questions in complete sentences because I was representing other teachers and that meant I had to sound smart.”
“But it was fun, and I can now relate to movie stars and what it must be like when they get interviewed,” she joked. “OK, not really. They have way more questions to answer.”
Ruark expressed gratitude to the family who nominated her.
“I knew that my students loved me, but I never expected a family to go out of their way to contact a radio station with me in mind,” she said “Teaching is a hard job and some days, it can feel like you are spinning your wheels. So when this happened, it really showed me that I do make a difference. I wish all teachers could feel as special and valued as I do.”
Lara Ruark (Right) stands with Olivia Marek, the direct marketing coordinator of KKDV. Marek came into Ruark's classroom with treats and interviewed her live on the air. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Warren)